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Commentary: Musical masterpieces from Frank Ocean, Black Keys, Wale comprised 2012

Jackie Storer / Managing editor of design

Despite the Mayans’ grim prediction for 2012, music, just like the rest of the world, continued. Now that the stars have survived to 2013 it’s time for The Lantern’s review of the top 10 albums of 2012.  

10. “Folarin” – Wale
It might be just a mixtape, but Wale’s Christmas Eve release was an early gift for many. Littered with collaborations with artists such as 2 Chainz, Rick Ross and Travis Porter, the D.C. rapper cranked out more poetic rhymes focused on the new wave of lyrical rap. Fusing R&B and other musical genres, Wale created an undiscovered middle ground. Slipping in just before the new year with a Dec. 24 release date, “Folarin” topped the rap albums of the year.

9. “Attack on Memory” – Cloud Nothings
Ragged and unapologetically darker than its debut, “Attack on Memory,” released Jan. 24, marks a slightly more retro style for the Cleveland-based band Cloud Nothings. Guitar riffs rage through all the tracks, and the lyrics have matured since the group’s first, self-titled album. The angsty lyrics don’t fall victim to immature clichés. At a short almost 34 minutes, Cloud Nothings pack aggressive track after track into a short sophomore effort that wildly exceeds its previous album.

8. “Celebration Rock” – Japandroids
Recorded live and released June 5, “Celebration Rock” is a mark of skill for Japandroids. Capping off at 35 minutes, the short album is a major improvement from its debut. The rock duo delivers emotional punches with every song. Lyrically, “Celebration Rock” is conceptual, and focuses on heaven and hell, dark and light. Significantly more raw (probably due to the live recording) and even more punk than its first album, Japandroids created a more experienced sophomore release.  

7. “What We Saw From The Cheap Seats” – Regina Spektor
The Moscow native took her quirky fusion of melancholy lyrics, beatboxing and seemingly never-ending vocal range to a new high. Spektor somehow managed to continue sounding like a cartoon character while simultaneously rolling out somber lyrics on this May 29 release. The anti-folk singer ranges from upbeat with “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)” to “How,” the heartbroken piano ballad.

6. “Port of Morrow” – The Shins
Five years of waiting for The Shins’ latest album, which was released on March 20, have not gone to waste, as “Port of Morrow” is more polished and more refined than the band’s previous releases. Frontman James Mercer’s familiar, soothing voice floods into fans’ speakers once again, with little change. The lead single, “Simple Song,” successfully manages to be uplifting without being corny, and Mercer’s lyrics are just as life-changing as Natalie Portman promised of the band’s song “New Slang” in “Garden State.”  

5. “The Seer” – Swans
Music veterans, Swans, cranked out another talent-packed album with “The Seer.” The second album after the band’s reformation, released Aug. 28, includes the droning vocals typical of its experimental post-rock style. It might not have topped pop charts, but “The Seer” took three decades of experience and crammed it into one album. Some tracks exceed 20, even 30 minutes and laugh at the conventional three-minute song rule. Swans has managed to stray from the traditional while still creating an outstanding 12th album.  
4. “Some Nights” – fun.
Fun.’s sophomore effort, “Some Nights,” sounds like Queen has come back with an indie streak for America’s youth. The lead single, “We Are Young,” shot the group to instantaneous fame and became the theme song of the invincible, young demographic. Yet as popular as the song has become, the rest of the album, released Feb. 21, is just as good.

3. “Girl On Fire” – Alicia Keys
With newly chopped locks, a new husband and a new child, a “new” Alicia Keys released her fifth studio album Nov. 27, “Girl on Fire.” With several collaborations, including Nicki Minaj and R&B artist Maxwell, Keys creates an album reflective of her professional training. She retained her classical influences with her usual piano ballads, while also including the booming anthem “Girl On Fire.”   

2. “El Camino” – The Black Keys
Released Dec. 6, 2011, “El Camino” just missed the 2012 cut off but is on point in surviving the wave of rock revivalists in the early 2000s. The Black Keys’ “El Camino” is everything garage rock is supposed to be: crude, raw, lo-fi (lower quality) recording and saturated with moody guitar riffs. With all the Grammy hype the group is receiving, “El Camino” had to make the list for 2012.  

1. “channel ORANGE” – Frank Ocean
One of the most talked about albums of the year, “channel ORANGE” has topped most “best of” charts. With his debut studio album, released July 10, Ocean pushes the limits of conventional R&B by spinning stories into his songs and jumping from neo-soul to jazz-funk. His lyrics aren’t overly powerful but have a more soothing quality.    

Honorable mentions: “One Lovely Day” by Citizen Cope, “Django Django” by Django Django, “Careless World: Rise of the Last King” by Tyga and “The Idler Wheel…” by Fiona Apple.

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